Sound and vision blog

8 posts categorized "Social sciences"

12 February 2018

Recording of the Week: The Listening Project Symphony

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Paul Wilson, Curator Radio Broadcast writes:

This week’s selection celebrates World Radio Day 2018 (13th February) and is an example of the art of radio at its best: blending creativity with actuality to illuminate aspects of our life and times and, in this instance, one of the moral dilemmas of our day. It's an excerpt from the Listening Project Symphony, a beautiful composition by Gary Carpenter for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, first broadcast live from Manchester in December 2012. The piece incorporates extracts from some of the intimate and often surprising conversations which have emerged from The Listening Project, a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library in which family members or friends are invited to share their stories, private thoughts and feelings with an unseen radio audience.  

BBC Philharmonic at Salford Quays  2012
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Salford Quays, 2012. Photo courtesy of the BBC

In this extract we briefly hear voices from three separate conversations, each poignant or moving in its own way even in this edited form. The third - part of a conversation between a young British Muslim woman of Indian/Pakistani descent and her India-born mother - will hold a particular resonance for some. The daughter begins by gauging her mother's response to a hypothetical question about marriage: how would you feel if I were to marry a man of a different religion? She then takes the hypothetical situation a step further - how would you feel if my partner were another woman?

The Listening Project Symphony (excerpt) 

The complete Listening Project Symphony can be heard on the BBC iPlayer here and the Listening Project’s BBC homepage is here. The complete collection of unedited Listening Project conversations can be explored at the British Library’s Sounds website.

04 September 2017

Recording of the week: Epic

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This week's selection comes from Rosy Hall, an ESRC-funded PhD student from Oxford University working with the BL's Spoken English collections.

Epic 3. b. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.). Particularly impressive or remarkable; excellent, outstanding. (

According to one Urban Dictionary entry, the birth of ‘epic’ as a popular catchphrase has its origins among ‘avid gamers and pretentious English majors’. This fits with the WordBank contribution of one of our speakers (b.1991), who attributes it to ‘video gamer culture’ and his gaming friends.

Um, I think that ‘epic’ is a very interesting word that I constantly hear my friends use, because, it’s interesting because it’s, I feel it comes from like some kind of like video gamer culture, cause my friends are like ((bay kid)) gamers, I mean I’m not so much, but they always use the word ‘epic,’ ‘that was epic’, or like ‘epic fail’ and {cough} I just, where, what does it mean? I guess it’s kind of like…uh like ‘amazing’, like it just sort of emphasizes something. You know what I mean? Yeah. It’s like a lot of emphasis on something it’s epic, it’s not just s- -- you know ordinary, it’s epic. I don’t know, maybe it’s rooted from the actual word epic where you know, like, I don’t know the Odyssey? Who knows? Who knows. But yeah. Bye!

Epic (C1442)

Like so many words whose meanings have evolved over time, epic is a common bugbear among prescriptivists – English language mavens who would rather the word were reserved only for Homer and Virgil. As alluded to by this speaker, epic hasn’t always been a trendy word for something like ‘really good’ or ‘extreme’; traditionally it’s a genre of lengthy heroic poetry. Scholars have pointed out, however, that even this definition is fairly fluid – the meaning of epic has changed over time to cover both oral and written forms, and extends to novels and even movies (Game of Thrones, anyone?). Language change is inevitable, after all; it seems this new epic is just the latest iteration.


And we’d better get used to it: unfortunately for the pedants, a high level of objection usually correlates to a high level of usage. Judging from the number of internet rants against it, it’s clear that epic is here to stay!

Continue the conversation with us @VoicesofEnglish

24 April 2017

Recording of the week: when is a word not a word?

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Evolving English: WordBank is extremely positive evidence of the robust nature of our native dialects, as demonstrated by this speaker's use of the verb puggle [= ‘to prod, poke about in e.g. a hole to clear obstruction’]. As a young, female, middle-class speaker she doesn't conform to the usual dialect stereotype and she also comes from the south of England, where the apparent demise of local speech forms is most frequently asserted. Nonetheless she expertly describes and defines a word recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'English regional (chiefly south-east)'. Puggle also features in the 6-volume English Dialect Dictionary, the most comprehensive record of 18th and 19th century English regional vocabulary, where it's attested in Hertfordshire and Essex.

PugglePuggle - as defined in Vol. 4 of the English Dialect Dictionary (1898)

To have a puggle

As a dialectologist I'm also particularly interested by her observation that 'I always thought it was a real word and it turns out it's not'. This, sadly, is frequently the fate of dialect vocabulary, but I hope she and other users of perfectly valid local forms are reassured to know that the validity of puggle is acknowledged by authoritative dictionaries and that it has been around in the Home Counties for at least 150 years and clearly still survives in the 21st century - no doubt alongside other supposedly 'long-lost' southern dialect words.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 February 2017

Recording of the week: Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

In this recording, made in 1991 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, British literary theorist Terry Eagleton discusses the intricacies of the concept of ideology with French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002).

Bourdieu explains his concept of symbolic violence, by which he means the systems of meaning that legitimize and thus solidify structures of inequality, often in a way that is undetectable and invisible to its very victims. 

Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton in conversation

Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Duelo_a_garrotazosFight with Cudgels (c.1820-1823), Francisco de Goya. Wikimedia Commons.

This recording is an accessible introduction to one of the most influential social thinkers of the last three decades of the twentieth century, and also one of the very few available online featuring Pierre Bourdieu explaining his work in the English language.

Over 800 recordings of talks and discussions held at the ICA between 1982-1993 can be explored on British Library Sounds

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.   

31 January 2017

When politics meets science: Tam Dalyell, Labour MP (1932-2017)

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The many tributes to Tam Dalyell, who died last Thursday, paid little attention to his unswerving interest in scientific affairs throughout a 43-year career as an MP.


Tam Dalvell, Labour MP (1932-2017), courtesy of Douglas Robertson and the University of Edinburgh

Dalyell read history and economics at Cambridge in the 1950s, yet acknowledged in his 2012 interview for the History of Parliament oral history project “it’s important that there were particularly others from the sciences that I got to know very well”.

While at university he was friends with Ron Peierls, son of nuclear physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls, and attended lectures given by physicists Sir James Chadwick and Otto Frisch.

Dalyell on attending lectures given by Otto Frisch (British Library Reference: C1503/38)

Dalyell knew many world-famous scientists through his friendship with David Schoenberg, head of the Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1964 he was the only MP on a high-level science/political delegation to the Soviet Union, witnessing how personal relationships within the international science community could transcend Cold War politics.

However it was through writing a weekly column for New Scientist for 37 years that Dalyell “provided a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa”.

Dalyell’s support for the public understanding of science demonstrates that parliamentarians who are actively involved in debates about science do not necessarily come to Westminster with a scientific background, as interviews with other former MPs confirm.

Patrick Jenkin (MP for Wanstead and Woodford, 1964-1987), who died in December 2016, spoke about having never been taught science at school, yet he became president of both the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. He was chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during its 2000 inquiry into Science and Society.

David Price (MP for Eastleigh, 1955-92) read history at university but in Parliament became a vigorous campaigner for British industry and space research.

David Price on his involvement in space research (British Library Reference: C1503/19)

The interviews also reveal that MPs with a technical or scientific background were not always comfortable adopting a visible position on science. “I really didn’t feel sufficiently technically qualified in order to become, as it were, a technical guru in Parliament, so in the end I concentrated on foreign affairs,” said Ben Ford (MP for Bradford North, 1964-83), despite a thorough knowledge of aviation electronics and experience of lecturing on productivity at INSEAD and the University of Cambridge.

From accounts such as these, it seems that there was little correlation between these MPs’ scientific credentials and an inclination to be actively involved in Westminster’s consideration of science.

The interview clips featured in this blog are sourced from the ongoing  History of Parliament Oral History Project (deposited at the British Library). For further interviews in this collection, search 'C1503' in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Further oral history interviews relating to Science and British Scientist can be found via the Sound and Moving Image, online via BL Sounds and the Voices of Science webpage, the website of the Oral History of British Science programme, led by National Life Stories in association with the Science Museum, and with support from the Arcadia Fund.

Emmeline Ledgerwood, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Leicester and The British Library

19 December 2016

Recording of the week: Bad cough? Try a fried mouse

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This week's selection comes from Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History.

In this 1967 recording oral history pioneer George Ewart Evans interviews Susan Mullenger (b.1878) about some old Suffolk remedies for children's illnesses, including inhaling fumes from a gas-works or eating fried mice to cure whooping cough. 

Susan Mullenger interviewed by George Ewart Evans


Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

05 December 2016

Recording of the week: UCL word list

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

It’s not clear what the purpose of this word list is, but it’s one of ten created by linguists at UCL, probably in the 1950s. It might be a prompt for phonetic transcription practice or possibly a pronunciation guide to English vowel sounds. In the 1980s UCL phonetician Professor Wells established his ‘lexical sets’ – a list of key words used by linguists to capture and describe English pronunciation in a variety of accents. The first words in this list would be represented in Wells’ lexical sets as TRAP, STRUT and DRESS.

UCL Word List 10


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02 June 2016

Archival Ingredients: cooking up a documentary for Radio 4's The Food Programme

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You might think that being involved in the making of Radio 4’s The Food Programme is a glamorous gig… and it certainly felt that way! After months of enthusing about the British Library’s oral history archives, contributing clips to episodes of The Food Programme and searching ever deeper into the food archives, we had so much material that we began to craft a full episode dedicated to food in the archives. Our programme came together under the knowledgeable direction of producer Clare Salisbury. As the broadcast date approached we whizzed around with Clare and her microphone visiting butchers, chefs, restauranteurs and food-entrepreneurs playing them extracts that we’d uncovered in the British Library’s sound archive and hearing their stories in return. 

In particular we were focusing on an archive that is rich in intimate, biographical stories and provides a unique way of recording the rapid changes in food consumption and production within living memory. Housed at the British Library, Food: From Source to Salespoint is a collection within National Life Stories which holds nearly 300 life story interviews with individuals involved in the food industry. The interviewees worked in sectors as diverse as animal slaughter, national food-retail and restaurants. 

Blog picture

Image: Interviewing Paul Langley in the chiller. Cramer’s butchers shop on York Way, London. Photo: Barley Blyton

The seed for this programme was realising that the archives had made us acutely aware of changes in our own city (London), and had brought these dramatic shifts to life. For instance, surfacing from the tube at Kings Cross we now imagined the traffic replaced with cattle being driven up the same roads to market. Shopping in Brixton would conjure the accounts of butcher Ron Stedman describing the high street, as he recounts popping out for a ‘six-penny-worth of broken eggs’ in the 1930s. Food: From Source to Salespoint has interviews with food producers around the UK: from the North of Scotland to the South coast.

The broadcast of this programme coincides with 120 of these food industry interviews being made available online - that's nearly 1000 hours of stories - and for the first time they are accessible to listen to from anywhere! Just follow this link:

We wanted to know how those working in the food industry today felt about some of these changes and also to introduce them to this unique record of the food industry being preserved at the British Library.

In just one week we chewed the fat with Ashley Palmer Watts, head chef at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, discussed food and philosophies of happiness with one of the world’s most influential restauranteurs Alan Yau OBE, (renowned for ventures such as Wagamama, Hakasan and Park Chinois) and enjoyed tea and serenity with Sally Clarke at her Notting Hill restaurant where she has been for over 30 years. We also returned to Cramer’s butchers shop on York Way in North London whose doors have been open for 100 years. Both Phillip Cramer and his butcher’s boy Paul Langley who now owns Cramer’s were recorded for the archive more than fifteen years ago:

To give you a ‘taster’ of what we played from the archives, this is a clip from Micheline starred chef Shaun Hill, talking about the early 1970s when he worked at a restaurant called The Gay Hussar in Soho:

Shaun Hill talks about working at The Gay Hussar in the 1970s

Shaun’s interview is a brilliant example of how these life stories can capture a changing industry, but also the changing attitudes of a population within the span of a single career. I wonder what today’s clientele of the Walnut Tree near Abergavenny (where Shaun still cooks) would make of carp with a pike’s head?

There are now 120 recordings now available on British Library Sounds. For more clips just click here: in on June 5th at 12.32 to hear more of ‘An Archive for Food’ on BBC Radio 4. 

Barley Blyton and Polly Russell 
Barley and Polly held the inaugural National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship in 2015 for their project Food Matters